Stead a rare bright spark as blunders follows thunder

02/09/2008 01:03

Tony Blair and Michael Howard might beg to differ, but it is hard to imagine anyone getting a worse press than Blackburn Rovers last week. Given a chance, some would have imposed ASBOs on Mark Hughes and his entire first-team squad.

Branded as thugs after their FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal last Saturday and accused of violence in the tunnel by Crystal Palace's manager Iain Dowie on Wednesday, it would be nice to write that they embarked on a charm offensive yesterday.If they did, they need a new public relations manager urgently.

True, they escaped without a stain on their character in terms of yellow or red cards, but when it came to entertainment they were irredeemably tarnished. Hughes has consistently looked forward to next season and after this dreadful game you were inclined to agree with him.

The sad thing is that Manchester City were equally bad, but at least they could plead mitigation in being the away team. Blackburn, two shots from Jon Stead apart, barely looked like scoring.

"I'll give you the positives," Hughes said. "We've got to the 40-point mark and it's one goal conceded in eight League games." Then he turned to the negatives. "It wasn't the best of games. It's always difficult in players' minds when they know they are safe from relegation. You can bang the drum as much as you like but psychologically they switch off a little bit."

So did the crowd. Anyone hoping Blackburn would show their cuddly side was soon disillusioned as tackles flew in that were so thunderous they ought to have been accompanied by lightning. And that was from one of Rovers' aesthetes, Morten Gamst Pedersen; when Robbie Savage and Joey Barton collided, the ground shook.

Cue a clash of the tackling titans? Unfortunately not because even these skirmishes dissolved into little and the game rarely rose above the mundane as mistake was countered by blunder before collapsing into error. The wind was blustery, but that did not exonerate players earning Premiership wages and offering downgraded fare.

The opportunities that did arrive were of the purely speculative variety, Lucas Neill firing low to the left of a post after six minutes, Robbie Fowler attempting a chip that briefly threatened to embarrass Brad Friedel two minutes later. The only moment of true skill in the first half came when Stead fooled Sylvain Distin with a clever turn and then fired a shot that scraped a post.

To give Blackburn their due, they upped their tempo in the second half and got two shots on target. The first, from Dominic Matteo, was deflected off Claudio Reyna and forced David James to change direction and the second was another turn and shot from Stead that had the City goalkeeper stretching to his left.

As for City, they did not have a shot on target, their best effort being Barton's drive after 71 minutes that might have troubled Friedel if Ryan Nelsen had not stuck out a boot to block.

It was a meagre return for supporters of both sides and when City's fans began singing "You're the worst we've ever seen", there were few dissenters. The only query was which team?


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